Ukraine’s president says ‘history being made’ at Swiss peace summit


The summit aims to plot the first steps toward peace in Ukraine even though analysts don’t expect any major breakthroughs because Russia is absent.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday predicted “history being made” at the Swiss-hosted conference that aims to plot the first steps toward peace in Ukraine even though experts and critics don’t expect any major breakthroughs because Russia isn’t attending.

The presidents of Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Somalia joined dozens of Western heads of state, other senior government leaders and high-level envoys at the meeting, in the hopes that Russia could join in one day.

In a brief statement to reporters alongside Swiss President Viola Amherd at the outset of the summit, Zelenskyy cast the gathering as a success, saying: “We have succeeded in bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace.”

“I believe that we will witness history being made here at the summit,” he said.

Swiss officials hosting the conference said more than 50 heads of state and government would attend the gathering at the Bürgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne. Some 100 delegations, including European bodies and the United Nations, were also expected.

Who would and wouldn’t show up was a point of intrigue about a meeting that critics said would be pointless without the presence of Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Although his country didn’t attend, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday took the rare step of clearly laying out his conditions for ending the war. But his proposals didn’t include any new demands, and Kyiv blasted them as “manipulative” and “absurd.”

Turkey and Saudi Arabia sent their foreign ministers to the meeting, while key developing countries such as Brazil — only an observer at the event — India and South Africa were represented by lower-level officials.

China, which backs Russia, joined scores of countries that sat out the conference. Beijing has said any peace process would require the participation of Russia and Ukraine, and has floated its own ideas for peace.

Last month, China and Brazil agreed to six “common understandings” on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, asking other countries to endorse them and play a role in promoting peace talks. The six points include an agreement to “support an international peace conference held at a proper time that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties as well as fair discussion of all peace plans.”

Zelenskyy led a diplomatic push to draw participants to the Swiss summit.

Russian troops who control vast swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine <LINK (have made territorial gains in recent months. When talk of a Swiss-hosted peace summit began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large tracts of territory, notably near the souther city of Kherson and the northern city of Kharkiv.

Against the battlefield backdrop and diplomatic strategizing, summit organizers have presented three agenda items: nuclear safety, including at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant; humanitarian assistance and a prisoner of war exchange; and global food security, which has been disrupted at times due to impeded shipments through the Black Sea.

That to-do list, which includes some of the least controversial issues, is well short of the proposals and hopes laid out by Zelenskyy in a 10-point peace formula in late 2022. That plan called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory, the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of Ukraine’s original borders with Russia, including Russia’s withdrawal from occupied Crimea.

Putin, meanwhile, wants any peace deal to be built around a draft agreement negotiated in the early phases of the war that included provisions for Ukraine’s neutral status and limits on its armed forces, while delaying talks about Russian-occupied areas. Ukraine’s push to join NATO over the years has rankled Moscow.

On Friday, Putin told Russian diplomats and senior lawmakers that he would “immediately” order a cease-fire and begin negotiations if Ukraine drops its bid to join NATO and starts withdrawing troops from four regions that Moscow illegally annexed in 2022.

Although Putin’s demands are a nonstarter for Ukraine, Kyiv is currently unable to negotiate from a position of strength, analysts say.

“The situation on the battlefield has changed dramatically,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, noting that although Russia “can’t achieve its maximalist objectives quickly through military means,” it is gaining momentum on the battlefield.


“So a lot of countries that are coming to the summit would question whether the Zelenskyy peace formula still has legs,” he told reporters Wednesday.

With much of the world’s focus recently on the war in Gaza and national elections in 2024), Ukraine’s backers want to bring global attention back to Russia’s breach of international law and a restoration of Ukraine’s territory.

On Friday, Putin called the conference ”just another ploy to divert everyone’s attention.”

The International Crisis Group, an advisory firm that works to end conflict, wrote this week that “absent a major surprise on the Bürgenstock,” the event is “unlikely to deliver much of consequence.”

“Nonetheless, the Swiss summit is a chance for Ukraine and its allies to underline what the U.N. General Assembly recognized in 2022 and repeated in its February 2023 resolution on a just peace in Ukraine: Russia’s all-out aggression is a blatant violation of international law,” it said.


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